Her Majesty The Queen opens new elephant centre at Whipsnade Zoo

The Queen feeds Donna the Asian elephant a banana after officially opening the new centre for elepha

The Queen feeds Donna the Asian elephant a banana after officially opening the new centre for elephant care at Whipsnade Zoo. - Credit: Archant

Royalty had a jumbo welcome at Whipsnade Zoo today, when The Queen came to open a new £2m elephants centre.

Elizabeth II fed Donna the elephant a banana, had a tour of the zoo, and together with her husband Prince Phillip, unveiled the new space.

The centre, which will house nine Asian elephants, occupies 30 acres, has 700 sq m of indoor space, soft sand flooring, and dimming lights for night-like atmosphere.

The habitat is meant to recreate natural outside surroundings, but inside, with timed feeders, tree trunks, and sand mounds.

Visitors can give a virtual manicure on an interactive display of a life-size elephant foot, mimicking the work of the zoo-keepers, who do feet inspections regularly.

Her Majesty met her elephant namesake, a 10-month-old calf named Elizabeth, who is the youngest herd member - born the day after The Queen’s 90th birthday last year.

The Queen is patron of the international conservation charity Zoological Society of London (ZSL), which runs ZSL Whipsnade Zoo.

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She also unveiled a commemorative plaque marking her visit.

Assistant curator of Elephants, Lee Sambrook, said the day was very special: “Obviously it was very exciting to have a royal visit, when Her Majesty entered the centre she was able to see some of the guys working with the elephants closely.”

He noted her interest in the project: “She was very happy with [feeding Donna] and very interested in the way that elephants feed and how they use their nose to feed with.”

Asian elephants, the breed of elephant housed in the centre, are on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species and ZSL is doing conservation work in Thailand to try and help preserve them.